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Now or Never for Coastal Steelhead Season 

click to enlarge Parker Lowe, of Yuba City, holds a wild steelhead he caught and released Feb. 20 while fishing the Smith River with guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He was using a pearl-pink Corky and roe.

Photo courtesy of Wild Rivers Fishing

Parker Lowe, of Yuba City, holds a wild steelhead he caught and released Feb. 20 while fishing the Smith River with guide Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He was using a pearl-pink Corky and roe.

Rivers conditions are trending toward perfection this week and it's pretty much now or never for the 2021 winter steelhead season. In what has been called one of the toughest seasons anyone can remember, if the next week or so doesn't produce some quality fishing, it's likely the season will go down as a bust. There are plenty of theories about why the steelhead haven't returned in big numbers but nobody knows for sure. With a little more than a month left in the season, there is time for a resurgence. And if there was ever a time, it would be this week. Conditions on just about every coastal river are — or soon will be — pristine. We've had a few "Miracle Marches" in the past and it's looking like we're going to need another.

Weather ahead

"We'll have a few opportunities for light rain in the next few days," said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka's National Weather Service Office. "The six-day rainfall total, which goes through Monday, is showing less than a tenth of an inch of rain. There is a chance for some rain on Sunday and Monday, but there's quite a bit of uncertainty right now. If the high pressure moves, we could see some rain. But right now, it looks like most of it will land more to the north. The Chetco is showing a slight increase in flows starting on Monday, March 1. If we do get some rain, it will likely have little impact on the river flows."

The Beaches

The surfperch bite is starting to heat up along the beaches, depending on the weather conditions. One of the top spots this time of year is "Stinky Beach." Limits are a real possibility using sand crabs or shrimp. King Salmon is also a good location. Surfperch are also biting well at Crissy Field and Lone Ranch State Park near Brookings, according to Andy Martin of Brookings Fishing Charters "The action has been improving, with limits possible," said Martin

The Rivers:

Smith River

The Smith is dropping quickly and is clear, running right around 5,000 cubic feet per second Wednesday. According to guide Mike Coopman, the fishing has been really tough. "We're getting one to three bites per day," said Coopman. "There just doesn't seem to be a bunch of fish around right now. The fish we are catching have been on the small side, running 5 or 6 pounds. I'm hoping we see some fish show up like they did last year in March."

Chetco/Elk/Sixes

"Despite perfect green water, the Chetco is fishing slow after the latest series of storms, with steelhead few and far between," said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. "Half a dozen boats managed just a handful of steelhead on Monday, even though conditions were good. Plunkers had even fewer fish. Spawned out steelhead should appear in the slower runs as the water drops but steelhead fishing likely will continue to taper off in the next few weeks. The Elk and Sixes also have been slow, but have a few steelhead around. The Rogue River is the best bet, with fair fishing."

Eel River (main stem)

Running at 6,700 cfs as of Wednesday, the main Eel is starting to get a green tint but is still big. Flows are predicted to be around 4,800 cfs by the weekend. It should be in prime condition next week.

Eel River (South Fork)

The South Fork dropped down to a fishable level Tuesday, as flows were right around 2,000 cfs on the Miranda gauge. That's still a little pushy but the color is good. Fishing is still tough, with boats reporting up to a couple fish per trip. Lots of zeros, as well. River conditions should be good through the weekend as flows will be down to 1,100 cfs by Saturday morning.

Van Duzen

The Van Duzen was running right around 850 cfs Wednesday and is starting to get some nice color. Flows are predicted to be down to 550 cfs by the weekend and could be a good option.

Mad River

The Mad was still high and off color as of Wednesday. Flows were 2,700 cfs and predicted to be down to 1,700 by Saturday. According to Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors, it won't likely turn green until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week. Most of the fish being caught are coming just below the hatchery by the liners. Kenny Priest (he/him) operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and www.fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com

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